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Heroes welcomed at statehouse ceremony

By Rich Harbert
MPG Newspapers

BOSTON (Sept. 13) - Their greatest reward may have come months ago when they helped save the lives of three young airplane crash victims.

But four members of the Plymouth-based Civil Air Patrol squadron got the recognition they richly deserved Thursday in ceremonies at the Statehouse.

On the second anniversary of one America's darkest days, Thomas Melucci, Geoffrey Monks and Timothy and Doreen Churchill were honored as shining examples of good citizenship.

The four were commended by Gov. Mitt Romney as winners of the Madeline "Amy" Sweeney award for Civilian Bravery. The award will be given annually in honor of Sweeney, a flight attendant aboard American Airlines Flight 11, the first airplane to hit the World Trade Center two years ago. Before the plane hit the tower on Sept. 11, 2001, Sweeney contacted the airline's ground crew to convey critical information about the five hijackers and their fatal actions on the plane that morning.

The award was presented to four volunteer members of the Pilgrim Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol, a Plymouth-based civilian arm of the Air Force that assists in local search and rescue operations.

The four -Thomas Melucci, 16, of Halifax, and Geoffrey Monks, 16, Timothy Churchill, 17, and Doreen Churchill (Tim's 43-year-old mother) of Middleboro - responded to the crash of a small plane carrying seven members of a New Hampshire family home from Florida in the early hours of March 3 in western Massachusetts.

While Doreen maintained radio contact with local authorities, the three teenaged cadets joined with several EMTs and hiked up to the crash site. They marched through high snowdrifts and battled wind gusts that dropped the temperature as low as 35 degrees below zero.

The team came upon the crash site and spotted the first survivor - a two-year-old boy in a small stream. Melucci wrapped the boy in his jacket to keep him warm and away from the elements. The team then located two of the boy's brothers who were alive under some debris from the crash. They reported their findings to an Albany helicopter and the children were taken safely away.

"In large part because of the bravery shown by each of these volunteers, the three brothers are alive and well today," said Romney, who presented the award along with Michael Sweeney, Amy's Sweeney's widower. "Their bravery and selfless dedication represent the very best that our state and our nation have to offer."

Doreen Churchill said the true heroes are the thousands of civilian volunteers who have answered the call to service and not returned.

"We will never forget the great sacrifices that so many Americans have endured in the past. Because of their sacrifices, and in their memory, we will strive to put others before self and to always be vigilant. We are just four links in a chain of thousands that persevere in continuing to build a greater chain of service, leadership, self sacrifice and devotion to community, state, and country," Churchill said in accepting her award.

"We were involved before 9/11 but to be compared to the heroes of 9/11 was just unbelievable," Churchill said after the ceremonies. "It's a true reflection of all the hard work we put in on a weekly basis. We practice search and rescues all the time and there are thousands of others like us all over this country... I don't know if these young men realize the depth of it all yet, but they are heroes. They are our future."

Each of the four honorees was presented with a sterling silver tray and the squadron was presented with a crystal bowl in recognition of the group's heroics.

"It makes all the time and effort, all the practice and training worthwhile," said Capt. Robert Yaeger, the squadron's commander.

The governor also presented a civilian bravery award to a Hull boy, 13-year-old Andrew Macdonald, who saved his family from a house fire in February.

This is the third presentation of the Madeline Amy Sweeney Award. Last year, Tiago Medeiros of Fall River was honored for pulling Kelly Fateaux from her burning car and saving her life. That same year, the honor was posthumously awarded to Madeline Amy Sweeney, fellow American Airlines flight attendant Betty Ong of Andover and John Ogonowski of Dracut, the pilot from that flight.